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Questions from the Outside: Are Your Priorities Right?

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  • Wrapping us this 4 week series that included trust, and answer questions, and issues of belief.
  • I've appreciated the feedback I've received from many of you, because it seems like this struck a chord.
    • Hope that it's helped get a sense of the needs of our community...
    • ...but also that we're capable of meeting those needs. There is something in how we do things that can make a difference.
    • Hopefully, too, it's given us a feeling that now's the time to roll up our sleeves and get to work.
  • That work is part of the answer of if we have our priorities in order.
  • As a first stop, we'll want to talk a little bit about James' question: Can Faith Save You?
    • Good Reformed Theology wonks - yes, of course! It's part of the reason why James nearly didn't get in the canon
    • Let's start first with this word "works," because I think it helps to answer better the question
      • The understanding of this word is an obligation. Even better, the Hebrew counterpart has a sense of being held in trust.
      • Our faith becomes a covenantal bond with God to hold the world and its needs in shared trust.
      • So it makes sense, then, that if we violate our sacred covenant by having someone poorly dressed or naked and starving and just say "thoughts and prayers to you as you scrounge," that we're violating our part of this covenant of faith.
      • James keeps building on that argument as well throughout the rest of the passage:
        • He starts by saying that there may be someone who wants to separate faith and works.
        • But as he goes along, he shows how by separating them, it's really more an act of empty sophistry that any kind of meaty discussion.
          • The devils believe yet they don't have works - all well and good. But what good will that faith be in the end? And do any of us want our faith to be shown similar to the demons?
          • Then he works through examples in Abraham and Rahab that the work that they did indicated and demonstrated their faith. And it's helpful to see the range of descriptors - Abraham as friend of God, Rahab as prostitute. It's almost as if human interpretations are not sufficient to reflect the covenant shared with God and humanity.
      • So the reality, according to James, faith and works fundamentally are inseparable, and to try to separate them is more demonstrable of a weak faith altogether.
      • That means that the public trust of our faith, one in which we are sharing with God, is shown to be meaningless should we not have the works that show it. These cannot be disconnected.
  • A question that we need to continue to ask ourselves - both for our own benefit and for those who are looking and curious about us - is if we're honoring the public trust of our faith.
    • Looking at where we are now, here's what we could say:
      • We are a church that gives 10% of our budget in Missions annually
      • We have volunteers at varying missions that we give to - that includes feeding people at Sulzbacher, and it includes things like members of our church on boards of varying parters (DESC, UCOM)
      • We also keep a small benevolence fund for the staff should someone come and ask us for help
      • And we have a few bags of food that we keep prepared should someone come to our doors and are hungry.
    • These are all great!
      • It's tempting to just give money away without being part of the missions we participate in, but that feels like outsourcing our faith. We don't need to have much faith because we pay others to have it for us.
      • Instead, we also commit to those organizations.
      • We also don't dismiss people who come with us with a "thought and prayer," but instead we feed them, and often we direct them to UCOM, a pretty simple walk away, to be fed for the long term.
    • But, if our faith can be measured by our works, and if our faith sustains us, then why would we want to do anything else but be relentless and unresting in our seeking out works?
      • As a result, there may be further questions we might want to ask ourselves:
        • What might stop us from going further to demonstrate our faith through works?
          • Sometimes it's discomfort of difference
          • Sometimes it's just allowing ourselves to worry about secondary issues (cost, decline, etc) to cause us to not focus on doing work of our faith.
          • But each time we do that, we need to think about the consequence of faith, and the truth of the covenant between us, God, and our community.
            • Let's talk about money, for instance.
            • We get ourselves too fearful of serving a need that is present because "it will cost too much" says multiple things:
              • That finances - and not the care of those in our midst - that takes the priority
              • That our faith is limited to what our balance sheet tells us
              • That we've already foreclosed on the needs of other because our faith is limited by scarcity.
              • As as result, we have a downward cycle.
            • But what if we said "if God calls us to care for the public trust in this way, we will do it"
              • We put our faith first, we go about the work
              • Perhaps that faith begins to energize others - they get excited about the work we're doing
              • Suddenly, it isn't scarcity but abundance. People give because they're faith is strengthened by the outcomes of works.
          • Which example, then, are the priorities right? Which example would be a church you would be exciting in serving in? Participating in?

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